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This article was published in B’Or HaTorah: Science, the Arts and Problems of Modern life in the Light of Torah: #18, 2008 (Shamir: Jerusalem, Israel).
by Sarah Yehudit (Susan) Schneider
Women and Judaism is a subject oft-discussed in the yeshivot and learning institutions of the religious world. One hears many statements, spoken with apparent certainty, that Judaism says “this” about women, or Judaism says “that” about women. And yet, upon inspection, many of the most common assertions are flawed and misleading. They rarely present the whole truth, and often (innocently) include beliefs that contradict the more scholarly (and authoritative) tradition. Out of the vast body of diverse sources, only those statements that support the current pattern of gender relations are regularly pulled out for discussion. They are woven together, with blinding skill, into a seamless tapestry of truths, traditions, and normative behaviors that explain and maintain the status quo.
And yet, dispersed throughout these teachings one finds a sprinkling of sources that seem to be saying something different, that appear to contradict the prevailing assumptions. They are raised…one here, one there, in isolated contexts…but there is no mention of any systematic attempt to explore them more deeply. A question arises: “What kind of picture might emerge if all of these non-conformist statements about women would be gathered together and examined as an alternative perspective unto themselves?”